I use lard or tallow as the hardening fat in my soaps—it’s what makes the bar hard so it doesn’t turn into a pile of mush the second it gets wet in your shower. Both have a long and esteemed history in soap making.
The other factor in creating a hard bar of soap is aging time. Most cold process recipes are formulated for a 3 week aging time,(or by weight) which works when you have a good amount of a hardening fat in the recipe. If you don’t, you’ll need more time—sometimes, substantially more time. It all depends.
For those looking for an alternative, here are your options:
Palm/ Palm Kernel Oil: These oils are the most popular plant-based alternative to tallow or lard when it comes to hardening a bar of soap. However, I recommend using sustainable Palm.
Cocoa or Shea butter: Other hardening plant-based fats, though not as hard as tallow/lard or palm/palm kernel. I’ve found I need to leave these bars to age much longer before they get nice and hard. They’re also substantially more expensive. That said, bars made with these oils can be absolutely wonderful once they’ve finished aging. I have read some soapers age up to 2 years, and while I’m sure they’re wonderful and definitely hard, weighing the bars will tell you if they’re cured. Although wonderful, is it worth the ridiculous amount of curing time, and extra expense?
Make liquid soap instead: That’ll solve the problem of needing hard fats, but obviously you’ll then have liquid soap, not bar soap.
Forego hard fats and age for a substantial amount of time. This is common practice with castile soap, which is traditionally made from 100% olive oil. I’ve read that a 5 year aging time gives you a great bar of soap, so if you’ve got half a decade, go for it (4 -6 weeks would probably be sufficient, though, if you aren’t using all liquid oils)! I don’t agree with these time frames, though others swear by them. TRADE OFF: Lots of time.
So why, as an animal lover do I use lard or tallow in my soap? My thought process is this: tallow is a waste product of the meat industry, and by using it I am helping reduce waste and make the most of the life of an animal that was killed for meat.
If you inquire at you local grocer or butcher, you know the tallow/lard gets trimmed off the meat and thrown out at the end of the day. Most butchers will happily save there trimmings for you, and you can render your own lard for free. (I’ll explain in my next post)
Think about that—one employee (of maybe 10 that work every day) saves me their trimmings for one shift, and it’s enough for probably 20 lbs. or 10kg. of soap. Every other day of the year, that gets thrown out. Think of all that waste. The animal has already been killed (and not for its fat, obviously), and all we’re doing is using the meat (and only the cuts we like, for the most part), and throwing out everything else. So, I feel like by using tallow I am:
Helping use the rest of an animal that was killed for other reasons, and would be dead regardless of whether or not I rescued some of its fat from being thrown out.
So, if you eat meat, I think you should definitely use tallow or lard in your soap. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, feel free to use one of the alternatives I’ve listed above (I’d choose #2).Feel free to share your thoughts below!